Automation now accounts for nearly two-thirds of manufacturing, and that number is rising all the time. Recent evolution in AI technology means there are still many new automation avenues for businesses to explore.
This article will provide an overview of how automation is transforming product assembly. In it, we’ll explain what automation means and give some examples of automation in action.
You’ll also discover some exciting new ways automation makes product assembly more cost-effective, productive, and innovative. Read on to learn more.
The Rise of Automation: A Brief History
Most of us consider automation as a modern phenomenon. Yet it has a longer history than you might think. Early manufacturing examples like Ford’s first mass-production line had automated machinery.
This early automation helped to create standardization in the production line. Production becomes highly precise and repetitive. It has led to lower prices, greater efficiency, better quality goods, and product innovations.
In the mid-20th century, the arrival of computers was the next landmark in manufacturing. It introduced CNC (computer numerical control) production.
More recently, we’ve seen the introduction of intelligent technology. That includes advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.
That is beginning to create another new era of manufacturing. It means more advanced, complex products and lower costs. Plus, it is creating the most highly efficient manufacturing environments ever.
The Automation of Production Line Assembly
A modern production line uses a mix of advanced machinery and robotics. Together, they provide the most cutting-edge automation systems.
In many circumstances, that automation works from the start to the end of the production line. It means manufacturing happens fast. It’s consistent and accurate, far more than product assembly could achieve decades ago.
For example, machines in electronics factories can assemble minuscule components onto circuit boards. It does so with more precision than a human hand.
Production lines nowadays also house semi-automated systems.
These integrate with human input. It offers the best of both worlds: expertise and efficiency. For example, a machine might place caps onto bottles, leaving humans to carry out a check via a final inspection to spot defects.
Businesses invest in automating their production lines because it offers a competitive advantage.
Output is high, and errors are low. Companies can redirect human resources to the places where they add more value. It’s a perfect synergy between humans and machines. And it’s forever evolving.
Robotics in the Assembly Process
Modern manufacturing is making increasing use of robotics. One standard tool is a robotic arm.
These offer precision, and you’ll find them in many industries, like automobile and electronics. They can perform a variety of roles, such as precise parts placement or welding.
Some manufacturing facilities also use cobots, which are short for collaborative robots.
These are robots that work in conjunction with humans. They might do heavy lifting tasks, for example, via human instruction. They offer a safe and effective alternative to humans doing complex physical tasks manually, like lifting car parts.
Robotics is a technology that’s becoming more advanced all the time. It’s likely to feature more heavily in manufacturing. The robots, meanwhile, will become more sophisticated and take on more complex tasks.
Automation and Product Assembly Warehousing
The warehouse is another aspect of product assembly that’s undergone a technical revolution. Traditionally, parts going to and coming from a warehouse needed manual inventory management.
It’s a time-consuming, labor-intensive process.
Nowadays, automation has introduced something called smart warehousing. This involves the use of automated systems. It’s an advanced technology that can do many warehousing tasks using machines instead of people.
For example, that could include sorting products for shipping. Packing and labeling machines are another common application.
Inventory management has transformed thanks to sensors that allow real-time tracking of goods. It means stock reviews can happen automatically and instantly. It offers significant gains in terms of efficiency and accuracy.
Automation and Quality Control
One central aspect of any product assembly process is quality control. Inspecting products for defects before they leave the production line is crucial.
It keeps your reputation intact and costs low. Yet there is no doubt it’s time-consuming. Human error is a real problem in quality control environments.
Naturally, some companies have invented technology and processes to automate as much of this as possible.
First, there are cameras and sensors. These used automation and AI to inspect products. The sensors are sophisticated enough to spot the most minor defects.
That has two advantages. It’s faster than getting a human to do it. It also means you can use machines to spot things that aren’t visible to the human eye.
That benefits products like semiconductor chips, where microscopic quality issues matter.
It’s also helpful when products get to the packaging and labeling part of the production line. These sensors can check for labeling accuracy.
There is a safety advantage, too. For example, machine detection on automobiles can ensure products leave the factory safe for consumers.
Automation and the Impact on the Supply Chain
The benefits of automation extend beyond the production line and to the entire supply chain. It ensures workflows run smoothly.
For example, when a company procures raw materials, automation can support many tasks. That includes inventory checks, quality inspections, or using AI to predict demand.
The same is true for parts from third-party suppliers. As well as predicting demand, AI can also place orders to help fulfill a production target. Or flag up a part shortage before it leads to a production line breakdown.
In the warehouse, automation via robots can pack and box goods ready for shipping. Real-time tracking can ensure all elements of your supply chain are operating effectively.
It means you won’t risk a bottleneck slowing you down. You’ll meet targets more efficiently.
You’ll also be able to use lean manufacturing methods and avoid overstocking. It can lead to cost improvements. It can help you price competitively or boost your profit margins.
By positively impacting the supply chain, automation gives you an efficient setup that’s easily scalable. No matter how large or complex your supply chain becomes, it won’t break down.
What Consumers Want
We’ve spoken much about the benefits to a business using automation. Yet there is also much to say about what this looks like from the customer’s perspective.
Tech-savvy consumers increasingly want the best technology for their manufacturing needs. They want innovative, high-quality products. And they expect a delivery that is swift and reliable.
Customers already use automation in their businesses and are increasingly adopting AI technology. So they know automation holds the key to achieving the products they need.
Manufacturing companies need to stay adaptable to continue to meet customers changing needs, and automation can help businesses pivot quickly,
Preferences from consumers will change, and companies must be ready to respond. It might mean a surge in demand for eco-friendly production methods or more bespoke, proof-of-concept type orders.
3D printing technology is another emerging automated aspect of the product assembly process.
It’s a step beyond traditional manufacturing. You are using precision technology to add layers upon layers of raw material. It enables you to create a product from scratch.
It can reduce waste compared to other manufacturing techniques. Traditional methods often involve stripping away raw materials and discarding what isn’t needed. With 3D, you are adding rather than removing material.
3D printing is ideal for fast product prototyping and custom orders. It can aid innovation and help you get a product to market sooner. It’s also easy to change the design. You can run different iterations until you get a viable product.
While 3D printing hasn’t been around for that long in manufacturing, it’s already making an impact. Businesses will likely find new ways of using this for a competitive advantage as the technology improves.
OEM Manufacturing and Automation
OEM is short for Original Equipment Manufacturers, and it’s a world that has embraced automation. OEM businesses supply parts for end products.
Automation in OEM manufacturing means suppliers can significantly improve the accuracy and speed of production.
It’s vital in an environment where fast delivery is often demanded. Plus, it’s scalable. It’s easier to reconfigure a process around machines rather than equipment and people. It’s fast and quick to adjust the settings.
That could be as powerful as ramping up production volumes to help deliver a new order.
How Automation Is Changing Manufacturing Skills
You might assume that automation is simply a matter of replacing humans with machines. But the reality is more nuanced. It meant a shift in the workforce and the skills needed on a production line.
Routine jobs tend to be the ones that companies replace with automation. But the gap left is something many businesses fill with more specialized and knowledge-based roles.
These roles wrap around the automated processes. It includes designing, setting up, operating, and maintaining automated equipment.
You may need robotics or AI experts. You could need people with specialist knowledge of particular machining. That might include the maintenance as well as the management of that machine.
You’ll also need analysts who can look at the process from a high level to optimize automation.
The main takeaway here is that manufacturing facilities need a skilled workforce. Those skills place less emphasis on manual work and more on technological know-how.
The evolution to automated work is exciting from a job perspective. It means more highly skilled roles that can add value to an organization.
Automation and Sustainability
We’ve already touched upon how automation can improve efficiency on a production line. This has evident benefits for a business’s productivity and profit. However, it also has a broader benefit for the environment.
Using automation is one way a company can meet its sustainability commitments.
Take waste, for instance. Automation can reduce errors, and technology like 3D printing can reduce raw material waste. It means fewer harmful materials returning to the ecosystem or ending in landfills.
It’s also easier to recycle and repurpose material with the precision that comes with automation.
A more efficient product line means a business needs less power for the same output. From an energy perspective, it lowers the company’s carbon footprint and the footprint of the end product.
Automation kits like sensors can also help to reduce energy use. They can monitor energy consumption across the business and adjust it accordingly.
It also means lower transportation demands for a business. There is less overordering, and shipped products have fewer errors or returns.
All these individually small changes help have a dramatic long-term impact on the carbon footprint of a business. Automation offers as many environmental gains as economic ones.
Automation and Future Considerations
Transitioning to automated technologies comes with an expense. Small businesses may need to rely on further research and development in automation to help lower the costs of moving to these high-tech systems.
Automation also has an impact on business culture.
It must be embraced from the top down. Companies implementing automation must also adopt new processes. Automation must also progress with safety in mind. Robotics, for example, must protect workers and not put anyone at risk.
Overall, the trajectory for more automated assembly looks promising. In China product assembly lines, many companies have already realized the benefit. They know it’s the route to getting ahead.
Customers demand it, too, understanding they will benefit from the quality and reliability of automated manufacturing.
AI is likely to be a key feature in future automation technology. Machines will go from being able to follow set instructions to using machine learning to optimize manufacturing.
Companies will need in-house knowledge of AI and its capabilities to take advantage of this progress.
Automation: The Exciting Evolution of Product Assembly
The world of product assembly doesn’t stand still. It’s always been at the forefront of technical revolutions. Product assembly processes have always found quicker and more innovative methods.
Automation in product assembly is the perfect example of that in action.
At Shield Works Precision Manufacturing, we are at the heart of cutting-edge product assembly in China. To find out how our China assembly service could help your business, get in contact with our team here.